Tom Waits: Bad As Me (Anti)
I like Tom Waits, I imagine that he’s a gut-feeling kind of guy. Maybe I like to think that because I’m a gut-feeling kind of guy. When I first heard his new album the thought most prominent was that these 13 songs* were the best kind of ‘more of the same’ that you could place upon your turntable. On one level that’s about all you need to say. If you know Mr Waits already then off to the record store with you. If you don’t know Tom Waits, welcome to the carnival!
But for many, it’s not even about the music any more. It’s about the enigma that is this exulted musician. A man who will be, as you read this, exclaimed as a genius, lavished with superlatives and over-zealous declarations. But, you know what I love about Bad Like Me? You know what I really love? And this plays into the enigma thing. I love how unremarkable this album is.
Tom Waits is not a genius. At various junctures of his career he most certainly has been a maverick and he has almost always been a role model in the act of creativity shacking up with commerce. Tom’s not a KO kind of boxer – getting that No.1 knock out hit in the first round. No Mr. Waits has been a stayer, connecting when needed and shadowing when the road gets rough. You and I right now are most likely watching the minutes pass of the final round of his long career and we all know that the umpires will unanimously pronounce him the winner when the final bell sounds. Listening to Tom Waits really is feeling the craggy rocks and grit between your toes on the walk down that long dirt road – and it’s a good feeling.
A completely engrossing and dog-eared page in the Tom Waits songwriting rulebook that gets wheeled out on just about every album is his undying dedication to romance. Take the title track of the album. A eulogy to his demeanour? A warning to those who try to step up? No god damn it. It’s a love letter to his wife. He’s saying ‘I’m half bonkers. You’re a freakin’ weirdo. How great is it that we’ve lasted over three decades together. That shit never, ever gets old!
No, Tom Waits hasn’t reinvented his wheel or anyone else’s but he shouldn’t have to for his chosen craft to be worthy of our time. His back catalogue of music is unique and the fact that Keith Richards, Charlie Musselwhite and a host of others are on this album make it no more remarkable (Marc Ribot however does make it somewhat more pleasurable). Time will only reinforce Tom Waits’ uniqueness – who else after all is exclaiming “heavens to murkatroid” in song? Nobody, that’s who!
*13 songs on the LP version of the album. There’s also deluxe and really deluxe versions with either one or three extra songs and photos and guff.